Alexei Navalny: UK sanctions Russian prison chiefs after activist’s death

Navalny in 2020
Image caption,Alexei Navalny, pictured here at a rally in 2020, was President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic

By James Gregory & James Landale, diplomatic correspondent

BBC News

The UK has frozen the assets of six Russian prison bosses in charge of the Arctic penal colony where opposition leader Alexei Navalny died.

They will also be banned from travelling to the UK, which the Foreign Office says is the first country to impose sanctions over his death.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said those responsible for Navalny’s “brutal treatment” would be held accountable.

But there has been criticism that the latest sanctions do not go far enough.

Western leaders say the blame for Navalny’s death lies with the Russian authorities, including President Vladimir Putin.

The US has also announced it will be unveiling its own package of sanctions against Russia over Navalny’s death and the ongoing war in Ukraine on Friday.

The British government has called for Navalny’s body to be released to his family immediately and for a full and transparent investigation to take place.

The appeal from the UK echoes similar calls from Navalny’s mother, who was filmed on Tuesday outside the colony where he died saying she had been trying to see him for five days but did not even know where he was.

Those sanctioned by the UK are:

  • Col Vadim Konstantinovich Kalinin – head of the penal colony
  • Lt Col Sergey Nikolaevich Korzhov – deputy head
  • Lt Col Vasily Alexandrovich Vydrin – deputy head
  • Lt Col Vladimir Ivanovich Pilipchik – deputy head
  • Lt Col Aleksandr Vladimirovich Golyakov – deputy head
  • Col Aleksandr Valerievich Obraztsov – deputy head

There was no suggestion any of the individuals were likely to travel to the UK before the sanctions against them.

Announcing the sanctions, Lord Cameron said it was “clear that the Russian authorities saw Navalny as a threat and they tried repeatedly to silence him”.

“No-one should doubt the oppressive nature of the Russian system,” he added.

“That’s why we’re today sanctioning the most senior prison officials responsible for his custody in the penal colony where he spent his final months.

“Those responsible for Navalny’s brutal treatment should be under no illusion – we will hold them accountable.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK and its allies were considering “all options to hold Russia and Putin to account”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Navalny’s death was a “reminder that Putin has stolen not just the wealth but also the future and democracy of the Russian people”.

But the minimal nature of the response has prompted criticism.

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said UK measures against Russia needed to “go a lot further”.

As well as the “major package” promised by the White House, the EU is also in the process of agreeing a 13th round of sanctions against Russia.

The problem is that although Russia’s economy has been hit by unprecedented restrictions on its energy, financial and other sectors since the invasion of Ukraine, the impact has not been as great as expected.

Western policymakers are now targeting countries and companies that are helping Russia sidestep sanctions.

They are also considering exploiting – or even spending – $300bn (£238bn) of Russian state assets frozen overseas.

Both actions might perhaps concentrate minds in the Kremlin more than stopping a few officials taking their holidays in Britain.

Navalny, who was the Russian opposition’s most significant leader for the last decade, had been serving a 19-year sentence on charges many viewed as politically motivated.

The Russian prison service said he died at the IK-3 Arctic penal colony, nicknamed “Polar Wolf”, on Friday after taking a walk and suddenly collapsing.

Navalny’s team alleges he was murdered on the orders of President Putin.

The family have been told his body will not be released for two weeks.

His mother was informed it was being held for “chemical analysis”, a representative for Navalny said.

There has been no confirmation of the whereabouts of the body from Russian authorities, while efforts to locate it have been repeatedly shut down.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, has alleged the body was being kept until traces of poisoning by the nerve agent Novichok had disappeared. Navalny survived an attempt to kill him using the poison in 2020.

Mr Putin has not directly commented on his death. The Kremlin did acknowledge his death and said the Russian president was aware.

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